After the clamour surrounding 3D graphics cards, now sound cards are the latest devices to get the 3D treatment, most notably through the use of the PCI bus. Older ISA cards are limited in bandwidth, which in turn limits the number of high-quality audio channels that can be processed at any one time. PCI sound cards overcome that, with this card offering up to 48 simultaneous audio streams.
Each of those streams can be accurately positioned in three dimensions using just a two-speaker setup, by means of timing differences that fool the brain into thinking that a sound is coming from a particular direction (that’s the theory, anyway). In addition, the card’s Aureal AU8820 processor takes a lot of the work away from the computer’s processor, allowing it to concentrate on handling the gameplay. The 64-voice wavetable engine accepts downloaded samples, although all the voices are actually stored in the host PC’s memory, rather than on the card itself. The Digital 3D PCI Sound Card does, of course have the usual Line in, Mic, Line out and Joystick/MIDI ports at the rear, plus a CD audio connector.
The theory sounds good enough, but what’s it like in practice? After some initial teething problems during the driver installation process (which requires DirectSound to be installed too), all was well, with the card producing quite realistic MIDI sounds while coping well with the latest games. The 3D aspect does appear to work in those games developed specifically for it, but on a two-speaker system is not exceptionally stunning.
There’s nothing really new here that hasn’t been seen in other PCI sound cards – although the Sound Blaster Pro support for DOS games in true DOS mode is a welcome rarity – but what is impressive is the price, which is cheaper than many other PCI sound cards.
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